(Story shared by Carissa, 26, Maimi Beach, FL)
When you go through a traumatic period in your life, you can only hope that your friends will support you. When I first told my friends my father’s prognosis, they were expectedly shocked, but I never received the reaction from them as I had hoped. It seemed as though the day I broke the news to my closest friends that my father had stage IV lung cancer and had six weeks to live, they seemed to run the other direction. I didn’t receive the support and love that I thought I would from the friends who I have grown with; who I have supported over the years. Instead I received the things I feared the most: silence and separation.
My father was always my hero growing up, and he became even more so his last week of his life. He fought so hard to stay with his family, and I was his cheerleader while everyone else only focused on the negativity of the situation. Sometimes I feel that is why I took my father’s death so hard. Neither him nor I ever talked about him dying, but instead lived each day to the absolute fullest. I was terrified everyday that my dad would never come home, but I swallowed my fear and sat by his side everyday for the last 7 months of his life.
When my sister called to tell me my father passed, I sat on the other end completely numb. I couldn’t cry; I couldn’t move. I just sat there speechless. I saw my father later that day and it is an image I will hold onto forever. His lifeless body lay in front of my mom, my sister and I but I had no reaction. I felt as if this were some terrible dream and I desperately needed to wake up.
Losing a father is unexplainable. The connection that the two of us had will be cherished with me always, but things will never be the same. I will never be able to pick up the phone to ask him about my snow tires, or feel his arm around me and taste his traditional Christmas Eve meal. To try and explain this to someone fortunate enough to have never lost a parent or a loved one is incredibly difficult because there is no way that he or she could possibly understand.
My friends came to my father’s funeral, but once that was over I hardly spoke to them. I felt completely isolated and alone. At the age of 25, I felt like a complete outcast from my friends especially because most of them had their parents and never felt the heart breaking agony of losing someone that they have loved. My friends still have no idea what I actually went through with my father, simply because they never asked.
It seemed to me that people thought that by not bringing up my dad’s death, it would just hide under the rug. But I couldn’t hide away my feelings the way I felt everyone wanted me to. This was my father who suffered a sad and painful death and it is not something you just stop thinking about.
I remember countless nights I would sit home just wishing for a friend to call; just to simply check in, but the calls rarely came. As I watched my father die in his last two weeks, I had to tell my best friend four times that I really needed someone to be there for me for her to finally understand.
I found compassion in women who were older and who have experienced a loss because they were more sympathetic, and allowed me to speak freely of my father and of his illness. They cried along with me without judging or having any time frame. It was helpful to hear these women talk about their parents with respect and love instead of the friends my age whom would openly complain about their parents right after I lost one of mine.
My boyfriend was also very compassionate throughout the entire time my father was sick as well as after his death. He has always allowed me to cry when I needed to, to yell when it was necessary and to just sit alone to think when I needed to be by myself.
When I try to talk to my friends who are in their twenties, they just don’t seem to ever know what to say, so they don’t say anything or they compare their troubles with mine. Losing a parent is different than breaking up with a boyfriend. There is no comparison to losing a father to not having a date on a Saturday night.
Right after my father’s death, a friend of mine wrote to me to send her condolences and to add that she would be devastated if anything ever happened to her father. I remember her telling me specifically how terrible she would feel if she never had her dad walk her down the isle on her wedding day. I never understood how someone could rub such a difficult situation so harshly in my face.
As I continue to grieve today, I think about how I would have liked my friends to handle my father’s death. Instead of them asking me to go out dancing and drinking as if I were trying to get over a tough breakup, I would have wanted them to simply call me and ask me how I was doing. I want my friends now to stop pretending that I am not suffering, and to stop sugar coating my life. I want them to realize my loss and embrace it. Maybe it helps some people to not talk about their grief, but I have found that it only makes me feel that no one is acknowledging such an important loss in my life.
When someone suffers such a significant loss in her life, the last thing that she wants to do is worry about how her friends are going to react and if they are going to be around to help her. Friends should take some time and contact the person who is grieving instead of trying to only give her space. She wants to know that people are there for her and are thinking about her. Friends need to ask her what she needs, offer to help her with some chores around the house or just give her a hug. After all, when people are hurting, all it may take to help them heal is a friend.